Ms. Thoraya Ahmed Obaid
at the International Conference on Financing for Development
18th, March 2002
"Invest in Women, Invest in Change"
Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have emerged from a century of paradox: a century of systematic destruction and soaring achievement; a century of ethnic strife and emerging democracy; a century of assaults on basic humanity and universal agreement on human rights.
Are we ready now to tip the scale towards humanity: to use human resources
and ingenuity to end poverty, to promote human rights and to work towards
a satisfying and sustainable life for everyone on the planet? Or will we
allow the new century to continue the way it has begun?
Action to end poverty is more than a matter of mere survival. It is a matter of morality. It is simply unacceptable that one fifth of humanity commands more than four-fifths of the world’s resources, while more than a billion people subsist on a dollar a day. Most of the world’s men and women live with the consequences of poverty—malnutrition, chronic ill-health, exposure to communicable disease, and maternal death during childbirth. Largely because of poverty, and our failure to address it, 40 million people are now living with HIV/AIDS – and this is only the beginning. The sad end of this story is that these consequences are all preventable.
We can end poverty, at least extreme poverty. We all know what needs to be done, and to a large extent we know how to do it. We know that economic poverty has social roots and that poverty is intergenerational. The consensus reached at international UN conferences of the 1990s and at the UN Millennium Summit converged around the same practical and affordable goals in several areas, including health, education, population and gender equity and equality. Achieving these goals would lay a solid foundation for ending poverty in many of the poorest countries over the next generation.
It is encouraging that we can point to success in at least one of these areas. Population has been a success story, where women and men have taken their decisions to plan their families and to contribute to slowing population growth. Today women in large numbers are making their own choices regarding birth spacing and family size.
Today women in Bangladesh have chosen to have half as many children as they did 20 years ago. In India, the average woman has three children today compared to five children two decades ago. In Indonesia, average family size has decreased from more than four children in 1980, to between two and three children today. Here in Mexico in the late 1960s, when UNFPA began its work, total fertility peaked at nearly seven children per woman. A concerted national effort was started in 1974 with UNFPA co-operation. Now, women have on average fewer than three children. Mexico’s population profile is beginning to look like that of an industrial country, with a higher proportion of people of working age compared to children and the elderly.
UNFPA has worked for three decades in close partnership with developing countries in all regions. Everything we have learned shows that when women are empowered—through laws that ensure their rights, health care that ensures their well-being and education that ensures their active participation — the benefits go far beyond the individual- they benefit the family, the community and the nation.
While we work to close the poverty gap we must also close the gender gap. When women are left out of development, families, societies and nations suffer—economically, socially and culturally. We have seen this in many parts of the world. Women are key to development and therefore we must invest in their participation in development.
In Mexico, and many developing countries, the drop in fertility is much quicker than most experts had expected. One of the results is a smaller cohort of school-age children, a transition that will have its own effect in liberating resources for development—allowing for enhanced investment in the current bulge of young people, the biggest in history; meeting the needs of the growing generation of older people, and building economic strength.
Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen, the limited success we have had so far in the area of population and development is a resounding testimony to the wisdom and vision displayed eight years ago by the countries attending the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. It is a success for the United Nations consensus-building process. It is the success of each country that has invested in population programmes, including population policies and reproductive health.
But let us not be carried away with this success. In those
countries like Mexico, where early population investments were made, the
demographic transition is in process, creating the preconditions for faster
economic growth through the demographic bonus. However, investments
in women and reproductive health must be sustained or earlier gains can
be reversed. Furthermore, there are many poor countries where this
process is still at a very initial stage and unmet needs in reproductive
health continue to cause too many unwanted pregnancies, unchecked spread
of HIV/AIDS and high population growth. For recent optimistic
scenarios from expert’s projections to materialize, the financial and technical
assistance to this group of countries must be increased and sustained in
order to achieve universal access to reproductive health by 2015.
In spite of successes, the challenges are still daunting.
The success of the Cairo Conference process is a triumph for consultation and partnership, of discussion and negotiation among all countries and all cultures, on one of the thorniest and most divisive subjects on the United Nations agenda. But agreement isn’t everything, as we have learned. Eight years ago in Cairo, governments agreed to take a giant step forward and provide universal access to reproductive health services by the year 2015. They also agreed on goals in the area of infant and maternal mortality and on education.
Governments also explicitly agreed on costs. So far, the Cairo goal of mobilizing $17 billion in 2000 for population activities has only resulted just over US$ 11 billion in 2000. The developed countries have not reached 50% of the required US$ 5.7 billion in 2000 while the developing countries have reached about 80% of the required US$ 11.3 in domestic funding.
It is a tribute to the governments and the people of the developing countries that they have done so much with so little. Now it is time for developed countries to act on their commitments and raise development assistance in line with the Cairo agreement. Commitments to fight poverty and inequality must be matched by resources. The decline in official development assistance must be reversed. Failure to meet agreed financial targets is derailing the achievement of international development goals, especially in the poorest countries.
UNFPA has committed itself to work hard to ensure that population is
the context in which national policy dialogues are set, for it is only
by identifying the characteristics of the people to be served can we identify
what specifically needs to be done and how much it costs. It has also committed
itself to participate in a more systematic and effective way in the various
national policy dialogues. Besides the United Nations Development Framework,
UNFPA will ensure that it contributes to other national policy dialogues,
especially the Sector Wide Approaches (SWAPs) and the PRSP, so that reproductive
health can be mainstreamed in the health sector reforms and be well placed
in primary health care. This would allow a more effective channelling of
domestic resources and would also leverage more and better invested external
Mr. Chairman, $50 million contributed to the United Nations Population Fund for 2002 helps prevent nearly 3 million unwanted pregnancies, over 1 million abortions, 7,000 maternal deaths, 90,000 serious maternal illnesses, more than 100,000 infant deaths and countless new cases of HIV infection.
It is time for change. Here in Monterrey let us pledge once more
to support women around the world and free them from poor health and illiteracy.
Let us keep the commitments we made in Cairo and reiterated in the Millennium
Summit. Let us make that very good investment. The returns are known, and
they are very high indeed.
Statements at the Conference